Argentina may have elected a female president in 2007, but the inauguration of Christina Fernandez de Kirchner into Argentina’s highest office didn’t exactly ring the death toll for Latin machismo within the country. While we’re not exactly living in the dark ages here, machismo is still alive and well.
My good friend Merriam Webster defines machismo as a strong sense of masculine pride, or an exaggerated masculitiny. However, this is one of those words that carries a much heavier load than its literal meaning, and it can even mean different things to different people and within different regional contexts. Personally, when I think of machismo, I think of the prideful male ego that should never be bruised and a stubborn and unbending insistence on traditional gender roles.
One of the most prominent ways that machismo manifests itself in everyday life is through the piropo, which is actually a pretty difficult term to define. Depending on who you are talking to, a piropo can be a compliment directed at a charming young lady on the streets or it can be a direct form of street harrasment. While I’m not going to wax poetic on the political implications of this form of “flirtation”, I would like to offer some advice and experience on how to survive on the streets to my fellow females who plan on spending some time in Buenos Aires.
1. Don’t take it personally: The piropo is not about you! If some wannabe alpha male decides to affirm his masculinity by throwing out some idiotic comment about your appearance, it does not mean that you have done something wrong! Don’t think that you dressed too provocatively or walked in a way that invited the comment, because you didn’t. I was once walking down the street in winter, minding my own business, when a man decided to yell out “Ay, mami, ¿cuánto cuesta?” which basically translates to, “Hey babe, how much?”. Was I wearing a mini skirt, tank top and stripper heels when he decided to inquire about my hourly price? Not even close, it was cold outside! I was bundled up in jeans, flat boots, a sweater, scarf and a winter coat. I even had my school books in my hand. I looked more like Laura Ingall than Jessica Rabbit. The bottom line is, the kind of man that catcalls at a random woman will catcall at any random woman so don’t blame yourself.
2. Don’t make eye contact: The machista has a big ego, so if you look him in the eye after he just told you that you he wants marry you and build you a castle to live in together, his exaggerated sense of male confidence is going to take that gesture as an invitation. It is best to simply ignore the comment and keep on walking as if his existence doesn’t even register on your radar.
3. Remember you are in a foreign country: In your home country, this kind of behavior might warrant physical retaliation or, at the very least, a verbal confrontation. In Argentina, however, catcalling is simply accepted and is not generally considered a very negative thing. Although I will never understand, many Argentine women even take piropos as a compliment and get distressed if they haven’t received one in a while.
4. Know how to retaliate if it crosses a line: While the occasional light-hearted piropo is nothing to worry about, if someone is excessively harassing you while you are minding your own business and you did not make the accidental eye contact mistake, that is definitely crossing a line, and you can feel free to unleash a short scathing comment. He should get the message. Remember that is not culturally accepted for a man to touch you or make any kind of physical contact on the street, and you should definitely react and defend yourself if that line is crossed.
When the sun goes down and the city starts preparing to dance the night away in a boliche, the Argentino’s inner machista seems to shine a little brighter. Speaking from experience as a foreign woman on the Buenos Aires night scene, Argentine men are a little more persistent than what I’m used to back home in the US of A. A simple ‘no’ is generally not enough to deter the average Argentino, because, again, his inflated sense of male ego tells him that no woman could ever possibly reject his amorous advances. Obviously, if a woman says she’s not interested, he just needs to try a different approach. So what is a girl to do when she just wants to dance with the ladies, but an Argentino refuses to acknowledge that she is just not feeling it.
1. Be persistent: If he doesn’t listen the first time, try, try again. You may have to say no 3 or 4 times before a guy will understand that you mean business. Even then, he might try to act like there’s something wrong with you for rejecting him, but at least he’ll be off your case.
2. Get back-up from a friend: If a guy really won’t leave you alone, it’s always good to have another friend back you up. Have your girlfriend say no, too, that you don’t want to chat, dance, or make out on the dance floor with this guy. For some reason, a little noise from the peanut gallery usually makes a guy back off sooner.
3. Go out in a large group: The more people you go out with, the less likely it is that a guy will bother you, so sometimes it is nice to go out with a large group of amigos. If there are guys included in the group, even better. Very few Argentinos will approach you while you’re hanging out with another man, and a back-up ‘no’ from a male friend is almost a guaranteed free pass to dance the night away unbothered.
4. Have fun: Don’t let the overly excited Argentinos ruin your fun. You can still have a great night with just the ladies or even meet a guy you actually do want to dance with. So if you have to say no to the first few frogs that come along, don’t despair. There are plenty of princes in the city, and you might just find one to teach you a little more about the local lifestyle.